Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting Along Together: Using Emotion and Reason in Problem Solving

Most people have at least some emotional response to every one of life’s experiences--from childbirth, to a pay raise, to an athletic event, to politics, to religion, to disappointment, to death. The degree of emotion runs from very little to highly exaggerated. When it comes to resolving our differences, we often let our emotions cancel out what little reason we may possess, and the result is not resolution but fighting.

An example of the non-constructive use of emotion can be seen in the TV soundbites of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s ranting (I don’t know what else to call it) about America’s racial discrimination past and present. I do not blame Rev. Wright or any black person for feeling angry about this. I am concerned, however, when it
 is not dealt with using reason and respect to resolve the unresolved. Highly charged, inflamatory emotions (fear, anger, hate, disrespect) do not help. In fact, they are obstacles which impede any progress, and both whites and blacks have been guilty.

Some say that Rev. Wright’s manner is the familiar one in the culture from which he comes and in which he operates. If so, then perhaps it is time for this culture to take a look at itself and see if there is available a more reasonable, constructive and useful method, both for church services and for racial coming together--one which is conducive to rational problem solving which is more befitting of a modern, civilized, informed humanity. In my opinion, emotion sans reason leads to violence, e.g. lynch mobs, tyranical dictators, spectator fights at athletic events.

Whose judgment would you want to rely on if our President were to be faced with a decision as to whether or not to use a nuclear weapon---a President who responds to threats with anger and fear, or one who maintains a clear mind and responds with calm awareness of possible consequences? Highly emotional states are not conducive to rational thinking. When I observe speakers such as Hitler, Mussolini, Rev. Wright and most TV evangelists, I find them similar in their appeal to unthinking emotions. Contrast this with the methods of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barak Obama. The latter seem more constructive by far.

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